Posts Tagged ‘Road Safety’

Real Life Road Safety: An Office on Wheels

Posted on January 13th, 2012 by James Luckhurst

Real Life Road Safety: An Office on WheelsNo matter how good a driver you believe yourself to be, road safety should be observed by all. In this series of articles, motoring journalist James Luckhurst, will be looking at real life cases of drivers who are inadvertently putting themselves and others in danger on our busy motorways.

MARTIN WILCOX, 34, was stopped by police on a British motorway when he veered suddenly from the third to the fourth lane, in front of the unmarked police car, causing the police driver to brake heavily to avoid a collision. Martin pulled back into the third lane and, as the officer drove past, he saw him holding a styrofoam cup of coffee in his left hand. He was driving a two-year-old, 2.5-litre company car.

Martin told the officer he was driving from Twickenham in south-west London, with a colleague, to a client meeting in Liverpool. He drives about 500 miles per week, some of this as part of his work. He has nine points on his licence, all from camera-recorded speeding offences. He has also collected two parking tickets in the past three years. He occasionally makes and receives calls from a hands-free mobile phone when driving. He admits to having once fallen asleep at the wheel, though it was a momentary lapse with no catastrophic consequences. His employer imposes no limits as to the hours or mileage he drives, and does not operate a road safety policy. Martin has never been offered a driver training course and there are no company guidelines on mobile phone use while driving.

Driver training expert Graham Griffiths pointed to a lack of perception by Martin that his actions were unsafe. “Martin is not your typical high-mileage businessman, but when he is on the road he treats his car as a mobile office, restaurant – or padded cell,” he said. “The real problem is that driving is just the nuisance factor that goes with his need to do his job. Quite possibly this view is confirmed by his employer, and exacerbated by the trials of actually getting from A to B. He is unlikely to recognise his behaviour as unsafe.

“A coffee cup in one hand limits Martin’s ability to take any avoiding action if someone messes up. On this occasion, he was lucky that the avoiding action was taken by the policeman. It’s no surprise that getting on for two-thirds of all company-owned vehicles are involved in an accident – and insurance claim – each year. Here, neither the individual nor the company appreciates the risk to which they expose themselves. His car is either his desk on wheels, or his restaurant.”

A404(M) – Britain’s longest-running roadwork’s programme: is the end in sight?

Posted on September 7th, 2011 by James Luckhurst

On BBC 4 recently was a “Top to Toe” documentary, reporting on how a central Italian town, population 20,000, was built in 1933 by Mussolini in just 253 days.

I reminded myself of this as I bumbled once more through the 40mph restriction on the stretch of A404(M) near Maidenhead that has been the scene of what must be Britain’s most protracted roadwork’s project. The average speed cameras glared down, as if to dare me to edge even one mile an hour over the limit. The workforce, whom the cameras were there to protect… well, it was Sunday, so there was no sign of any activity whatsoever.

Restrictions on the A404(M) were put in place more then three years ago. Whatever work the Highways Agency is doing shows no sign that it will be completed any time soon. This tax payer would like to understand the whys and wherefores of this shocking delay.

Who is responsible and how much is it costing? A note to the local MP, Theresa May, brought the following response, originating from the Highways Agency.

“The existing Western Region Railway Bridge, which carries the A404(M) over the mainline railway line between London and the West of England, was in a deteriorating condition and required complete replacement. The A404(M) carries over 50,000 vehicles every day, and the four line railway below it is a key passenger and freight route with up to 30 movements every hour. The project has involved the complete demolition and replacement of the entire structure, while balancing the needs of road users, rail users and people living nearby. The steel used in the existing bridge’s construction, which dates from the 1930s, was of poor quality, and the design meant that water draining from the road, including the salt that is used to treat the road during cold periods, built up around the bridge supports. Over time, this had a corrosive effect. The new bridge will have a life expectancy of 120 years.

The old bridge was taken down and the new bridge constructed in phases. First we demolished then rebuilt the southern side of the bridge. We then rebuilt the centre section, and lastly we demolished and rebuilt the northern side of the bridge.  The sections of the newly constructed bridge were slid together, into their final positions.

By working this way, we have been able to keep two lanes on the A404(M) in each direction open to traffic at virtually all times throughout the work. Each phase involved some major civil engineering work, and for this temporary closures of the A404(M) were required, as this work could not be safely completed with traffic running nearby.  We planned most closures to happen at weekends, when the traffic flow is lowest.

We are also upgrading the existing noise barriers along the road and along the bridge itself. Temporary noise fences had been erected during the work.

Work to replace the Western Region Railway Bridge on the A404(M), between junctions 9a and 9b near Maidenhead started in early September 2009 and will continue through until September 2011.

The replacement bridge is now substantially complete, and in the final forthcoming weeks, work will include completion of the acoustic fencing, earthworks, verge works and resurfacing of the carriageway.

From midday on Friday 23 September, there will be a full closure of the A404(M) in both directions between junction 9b and the M4 Junction 8/9 roundabout to allow for all equipment to be removed from site, as well as resurfacing of the carriageway. The road will reopen at 5am on Monday 26 September.”

Thank you, Westminster. This answers substantially all my questions… except cost. Is there anywhere on the public record, I wonder, a statement of the original budgeted cost of this work and the current estimated outturn? I shall continue my digging.

Hay fever and driving

Posted on July 11th, 2011 by David Williams MBE

When you reach my grand age (60 next birthday) you become more aware of the awful illnesses that begin to strike.

However, succumbing to the misery of hay fever after nearly 6 decades was not a worry that was high on my ‘concern’ list.

Yet a couple of weeks ago during a long grass mowing session I noticed my eyes were continually itchy, streaming with tears and rather swollen.  Blaming the problem on the strange location of the mower’s grass box which sprays dirt, grit and cuttings into the user’s face every time it is emptied, I soldiered on.

However, the next day the problem got worse and people started to enquire what tragedy had occurred to make me cry so much.  I was in danger of drowning in a tidal wave of tears and wet tissues.  Then the dreaded H.F was mentioned.  “But I don’t suffer from ……..” I argued.

“It can strike at anytime in your life boy” was the message given by one who knows and I was promptly dispatched to the pharmacist to receive some eye drops especially formulated for such conditions.  I am pleased to say that the remedy worked and after a couple of days the symptoms had faded.

Hay fever and driving

However, this incident got me thinking about the seriousness of hay fever to motorists and what effects it could have in terms of road safety.

Apparently around 15 – 20 per cent of the population in the UK suffer some degree of hay fever and the figure is as high as 1 in 4 for motorists.

The worse symptoms are experienced from around mid May through to August and can include sneezing, runny nose, headache, itching and watery eyes, swelling of the eyes and many others.  Obviously any of these symptoms could affect a driver’s ability to drive safely.

It is of course an offence to drive if you are unable to maintain safe control of the vehicle and a long bout of sneezing could easily fall into this category.  At 30MPH a car travels 44 feet every second and so a long sneezing fit could easily mean that the driver is ‘blind’ for a long stretch of road.

Likewise it is also an offence to drive while unfit through drugs and this includes medication.  Some hay fever remedies can cause drowsiness and so it is vital to check with your doctor or pharmacist if the remedy could affect your driving.

GEM has prepared a list of helpful tips. Download our Don’t Motor on Meds leaflet today!

2010 A record year!

Posted on July 5th, 2011 by David Williams MBE

The Department for Transport (DFT) has confirmed that 2010 was a record year for road casualties ……..the lowest number since records began in 1926.

Before the ‘celebrations’ begin it has to be remembered that while 1,857 road deaths is a very welcome and dramatic reduction on previous years, it still represents a huge amount of pain, suffering and grief to the families and friends of those concerned, a very significant drain of the nation’s resources and a most terrible waste of human life.

Road accidents were once described as the ‘Biggest Epidemic of our Time’ and are still one of the major causes of death and injury on our planet.

2010 A record year!Worldwide someone is killed or seriously injured on the road every 6 seconds and indeed the United Nations consider the matter so serious it has launched a ‘Decade of Road Safety’ in an attempt to reduce the number of tragedies on the world’s roads.

In the UK a person aged between 15 and 24 is 17 times more likely to be killed in a road crash compared to being fatally assaulted with a weapon, yet publicity regarding the latter is far more ‘headline grabbing’ than road accidents.

All those involved in road safety can be justifiably proud of the reduction in casualties that have been achieved over recent years and indeed in the past 8 decades.

GEM was founded 80 years ago amidst a public outcry for action on road safety.  A staggering 6,667 people died in road accidents in 1932.  While it is impossible to say what definitive part GEM has played in the decline in the number of casualties it is certainly true that our efforts have helped.

GEM, like other road safety groups, can spare a brief moment of satisfaction that the casualty figures have fallen to a record low, however, there are still 1,857 compelling reasons why our work has to continue.

Whistle-blowing on the nuisance scooters

Posted on June 15th, 2011 by James Luckhurst

My home village is generally a peaceful place. However, every now and then, the peace is shattered by one of those daft little scooters being thrashed to within an inch of its life on the road outside. With a following wind and a good squirt of throttle, the rider (always a learner) can reach speeds of 50mph or more. Never mind the fact that there may be children trying to cross the road, or cars doors opening, or a load of loose gravel from a recent resurfacing operation. These young men’s need for speed trumps anything else. They even manage on occasions to carry female passengers (an offence), usually not wearing helmets (another offence and more important – plain idiocy).

Whistle-blowing on the nuisance scootersSo, raise a cheer for Section 59 of the Police Reform Act (2002), which gives police the basis for dealing with the anti-social use of vehicles. A constable, it says, has the power to seize a motor vehicle that is being driven in a manner contrary to Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1998, or is being driven elsewhere than on a road, if it is causing or likely to cause alarm or distress to members of the public.

Just a few days ago, we discreetly observed just such a seizure taking place. A local ‘youth’, already well known to the authorities, had made it his evening task to ride as fast as he could from one end of the road to the other – and back again, and again and again ad nauseam… except that calls from at least six residents led to a police patrol waiting for him after his sixth or seventh pass. Oh dear. Having already received a warning for similar behaviour, he could now do nothing but curse as officers relieved him of his beloved two-wheel. Recovery would cost him £150, plus a storage fee of £20. Oh, and a possible prosecution, too.

Peace descended on the village again, and word got round among the other young riders, that their particular brand of on-street motorsport would not be tolerated. Guess what… since then, we have enjoyed evening after evening of peace and quiet.

The moral of this tale is – quite simply – don’t just put up with nuisance drivers and riders if they’re making your life a misery. Tackling antisocial behaviour is a key policing task, and those Section 59 powers can bring effective results quickly.

Government Road Safety Plan

Posted on June 3rd, 2011 by David Williams MBE

Government Road Safety PlanThe long awaited road safety action plan from the Government is now published and contains no major shocks, although many have criticised the absence of any targets for casualty reduction.

Such targets have been a feature of road safety for many years and some fear that an action plan without clearly defined goals may become a worthless exercise in ‘spin’.

However, the proposal that has already hit the headlines is the announcement that careless driving offences will be subject to ‘on the spot’ fixed penalty notices.  The thinking being that the proposal would prevent a police officer from having to take time to prepare notes and documentation for a court case and instead he or she would merely issue a ticket requiring a fine to be paid.

At first glance this seems to be a good idea by freeing up Police time to catch more traffic offenders.  However, although motorists will of course still have the right to request a court hearing this new system will differ from many of the other motoring offences punishable by fixed notice in that the crime is not clear cut.  A motorist caught by a camera passing through a red traffic light is guilty and evidence confirms this, likewise using a mobile phone while driving is an unquestionable offence etc.  Being considered to have committed a minor motoring traffic offence witnessed by a single police officer is somewhat subjective and could be a matter of debate.  If motorists consider being found guilty of an absolute offence like speeding merely a ‘cash raising exercise’ there are fears that fixed penalty points issued for careless driving will fuel this cynicism even further.

This proposal, like much in the whole strategic framework document, leaves so many questions unanswered.  With Police numbers being cut drastically where will the officers be found who will witness and punish careless driving offences?  The offence is on the statute book now and very largely goes unpunished not due to procedural problems but simply because  there are not enough officers enforcing the law.  Perhaps an increase in experienced traffic police officers stopping, warning and educating drivers would provide a better outcome than a tailgating motorist being given an automatic £60 fine?

The proposal requires Police officers to be both Judge and Jury and for many observers this will put them in direct conflict with the motoring public, a situation many of them will find unpleasant and unhelpful in terms of road safety.

Could Lord Sugar help road safety campaigners seek new apprentices?

Posted on May 12th, 2011 by GEM Motoring Assist

If you’re contemplating your career path or looking for a change in direction – why not consider Road Safety?

Yesterday I was privileged to be a delegate at PACTS conference to launch the government-backed Global Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 initiative.

Whilst Britain’s roads are getting safer, there is still much more that can be done to reduce the 6 or so deaths that occur each day inCould Lord Sugar help road safety campaigners seek new apprentices? Britain as a result of vehicle crashes.  The conference included a range of speakers to talk about varying aspects of this extremely important issue, and covering both the UK and Global problem and what they hope to see achieved both nationally and around the world over the next 10 years.  Whilst many of us will completely see the important side of the effect of dangerous driving on human life, what we so often overlook is the staggering waste of money that road crashes create.  From the cost of emergency services and healthcare, disruption to businesses, road repairs and vehicle recovery to the amount of insurance claims per year, it’s a pretty thought provoking subject that the economic effect amounts to around £3billion per year.

It was heart-warming to see so many truly passionate people on the subject, from car manufacturers to Road Safety officers, business road users, MPs including a Lord, and the star of the show, Phillip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Transport – fresh from numerous TV appearances that morning.

The news coverage has been exceptional, but highly focussed on the power now being given to traffic police to divvy out on the spot fines.  I guess this is because it affects each and every one of us who drives a car?  It was pointed out that many people think they are perhaps better drivers than they really are and that mindless, careless driving is becoming acceptable.  Personally I think that the instant fine is a great idea and it should make all of us think more carefully about our driving habits.  Most of us can be careless at times, make silly mistakes or fail to follow the Highway Code and its’ time that we were taken to task about it.  Maybe we should consider getting a copy of the book which can be picked up in WH Smiths and seeing how much we really can remember from the time we took out test?

Another important message that came across in the conference was that of the need for continued research.  Plenty of initiatives are put in place, but unless we create studies on these initiatives, we cannot truly know if they are working or not.   Companies out there making massive profits and wondering how to spend some of their money should certainly consider funding the good work that can be carried out by study groups and road safety experts.

The morning’s proceedings included an interesting presentation from Tesco.com who outlined the steps they had taken and why, in a bid to bring down the numbers of their vehicles involved in crashes and road incidents.  Whilst the reduction of loss of life has to be the primary aim, it really is a massive money saving as well as life-saving effort.  It was fascinating to understand the steps that companies like Tesco.com have undertaken in the past decade to improve their drivers’ safety records, including limiting the top speed of their vehicles to 58mph and accurately monitoring and tracking the speed of the vehicles plotted against the speed limit where they are driving. Drivers who habitually break the speed limits are taken to task.

Despite now having over 2500 vehicles on the road, Tesco.com says it has, over the past ten years, significantly reduced the numbers of road incidents its vehicles are involved in and no doubt there are many more companies taking similar steps which I thought was reassuring to know.

Road Safety is a fascinating subject when you start to get under the surface, and one of the things that was mentioned again and again this morning, was that the industry needed new blood.  Young people who have that passion to work in Road Safety in the years to come.   But it was admitted that it’s not considered a terribly ‘sexy’ subject.

Could Lord Sugar help road safety campaigners seek new apprentices?It would be wonderful if we could find a way to engage young people in the topic and show them how they could contribute to making Britain’s roads safer, save billions of pounds and greatly reduce the tragedy and devastation caused to hundreds of families every year.

Maybe Lord Sugar could come up with a Road Safety Challenge in the next series of The Apprentice?  I would hedge a bet that the millions of young viewers tuning in would not only think about their own driving habits, but also see the value and satisfaction that a career in Road Safety could offer.  Whether an engineer, designer, researcher, marketing executive, health professional, or logistic expert, there’s a job that can be done which will help improve the safety of our roads and plenty of opportunity to hear the words YOUR HIRED!

Personal safety on the road

Posted on May 4th, 2011 by David Williams MBE

Personal safety, particularly for women, has again been in the news recently, sadly for the wrong reasons.

Personal SafetyGEM Motoring Assist, a motoring and road safety group founded as long ago as 1932 has worked in conjunction with the Live Life Safe campaign, organised by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, to produce a free booklet giving help and advice about personal safety on the road.

Covering issues such as safe journey planning, avoiding dangerous situations, what to do in the event of a breakdown etc, the booklet has been endorsed by TV personality Konnie Huq.

You can download your free copy of the GEM Personal Safety leaflet or contact GEM on 01342 825 676 for a free printed copy.

The Equal Cost of Motor Insurance

Posted on April 21st, 2011 by David Williams MBE

The Equal Cost of Motor InsuranceMany young female motorists will be cursing the European Court of Justice following the ruling that car insurance companies will no longer be able to take gender into account when determining premium levels.  Given that young female drivers in general have less crashes than their male counterparts, premiums for females have traditionally been lower.  It has been suggested that premiums for young females will rise by as much as 25% whereas those for young males will reduce by around 10% following the new ruling.

If this turns out to be the case it will mean that the tradition of penalising groups that cause accidents will be partly ended.  Perhaps a poor result for road safety?

However, despite the headlines the truth is that gender only accounted for part of the premium calculation.  Far more relevant are the factors which include age, location, car type, occupation, driving experience, no claims record and of course who else – male or female – may be driving the car.  Given that motor insurers now have until December 2012 to implement the changes it is our belief that the above factors and perhaps some new ones will be used to better estimate the risk of car insurance customers.  The more cynical amongst us may feel that some insurance companies will use this ruling to merely increase premiums and therefore profit but GEM Motoring Assist hopes this will not be the case and that market forces will ensure that premium levels reflect only the risk associated with each individual customer irrespective of their gender.

The road casualty figures do show clearly that females have less crashes than males, however, when factors such as mileage covered and indeed the overall number of female drivers on the road are added to the calculation the situation is less clear.

More worrying still is the effect that increasing premiums generally for young drivers will have on illegal driving.  Faced with insurance premium levels in the thousands of pounds it is not hard to understand why so many young drivers decide to ‘take a chance’ and drive uninsured.  A seventeen year old friend of my family was quoted £8,000 to insure a 9 year old 1.6 litre Ford Focus worth around £2,000!

Crashes caused by uninsured drivers currently add around £40 to every insurance premium.

What is going wrong on the roads of France?

Posted on April 19th, 2011 by James Luckhurst

Since 2002, when President Chirac declared road safety a ‘national priority’, the annual death toll on France’s roads has dropped drastically. Effective enforcement and an increased acceptance of the rules have been the two key components to what has been hailed as a big success story.

But there are signs that the downward trend is over. In 2010, the French police forces managed to reduce the number of deaths on the roads, reaching for the very first time the symbolic figure of fewer than 4,000 deaths. These results followed a nine-year constant drop, thanks to a strong political will and the daily action of both police and non governmental organisations.

In the wake of this positive result, 2011 was expected to be another year of decrease. However, the situation after the first two months is a far cry from this expectation. The roads have claimed 48 lives more than in 2010, meaning an increase of 10%.

Facing this stark reality, the police are trying to prompt politicians to introduce much wider uses of the fledgling Automatic Number Plate Recognition system – they call it LAPI in France.  It’s currently on a nationwide trial for detecting and sanctioning traffic infringements.

Additionally, the Gendarmerie’s road policing units are tackling high-end speeders with the use of 65 Renault Megane 300 RS cars, replacing the former fleet of Subaru Imprezas. It is hoped the vehicles will provide extra assistance for the Gendarmerie in its fight against speeding, which in 2010 was once again the first cause of death on the French roads.

What is going wrong on the roads of France?

Before using the Renaults, officers will receive a  special four-day driving course at the ‘Circuit de Bresse’’, a racing track used by famous drivers including world rally champion Sébastien Loeb.

Other countries are watching the French efforts closely. Tough new casualty reduction targets are in place, and the aim is to reduce road deaths across Europe by 50% by the year 2020. Any signs of upward casualty trends are sure to be regarded with alarm, especially in countries most affected by public service budget cuts and dwindling road safety resources.

It is hoped that the French efforts with LAPI – and the fleet of new cars – will provide an effective deterrent to drivers who might otherwise flout traffic laws. The next few months will be crucial in determining whether France is experiencing an unfortunate blip in a longer-term downward trend, or whether the ‘honeymoon is over’ and a fundamental reappraisal of road safety policies is now required.